The BFG (2016)

From the human beans that created ‘E.T.’ and the author of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Matilda.’

Late at night, at a London orphanage, young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) peers out her window and is snatched by a mysterious 20-foot tall giant she later names ‘The BFG’ — The Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) — who whisks her away to his homeland of Giant Country.

Fearing that Sophie will reveal his existence to mankind, The BFG keeps the precocious 10-year-old hidden at his abode, warning her of the more dangerous and larger giants who bully The BFG and snack on human ‘beans’ — among them, Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement), Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Butcher Boy (Michael Adamthwaite).

As an unlikely friendship develops between the humble dream-catching giant and the plucky young lass, the pair grow determined to help one another take care of the big bad bothersome beasts that prowl about Giant Country and terrorize the city of London.

Someone give this girl a Kindle
Someone give this girl a Kindle

It’s kind of amazing that this live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s classic ever got made.

All the way back in 1991, legendary producers Frank Marshall, Jurassic World (2015), and Kathleen Kennedy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), had begun developing Roald Dahl’s book into a full-length feature at Paramount Pictures, before it got stuck in development hell. The project picked up momentum again in late 2011, when it went under the wing of DreamWorks, eventually coming into the ever-capable hands of Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies (2015).

Why’d it take so long? Who knows, but now is as good of a time as any for a film of this sort, with live-action family fare being pretty rare these days.

The focus on wonder and character make The BFG feel as though it’s from a bygone era of family movies and by glancing at the filmography of screenwriter Melissa Mathison, it all becomes quite clear why — the late Mathison having been responsible for several well-received gems such as The Black Stallion (1979), The Indian in the Cupboard (1995) and Spielberg’s own classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982).

On a design level, Spielberg, along with his regular collaborators in production designer Rick Carter, Avatar (2009), and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies (2015), has meticulously designed the film to stunning results, embracing gorgeous magic hour type colors. As one would hope, Weta Digital’s motion-captured CG rendition of The BFG is an absolute marvel to behold, the performance guided by Spielberg’s new favorite actor Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies (2015). The atmosphere is enhanced by delightful sound design by Gary Rydstrom, Jurassic World (2015), and Christopher Scarabosio, Money Monster (2016), which makes its presence known while never becoming overbearing, as tempting as this may’ve been at times.

'Need a hand?'
‘Need a hand?’

So what’s so-so? Well, on a basic narrative level, there simply isn’t much in the way of urgency, tension or motivation; it’s as though things happen ‘just because.’ To be fair, this is true to the book’s structure and any deviations would likely upset older Dahl fans. However, as a film, this gives way to pacing that is perhaps a tad too slow in the mid-section, where there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of direction to any of the events.

A solid opportunity to develop these vital missing elements was lost with the filmmakers focusing all their attention on the notion of standing up to bullies and seeking help if needed — an admirable message indeed, but what could’ve brought more to the story would’ve been to explore why The BFG felt such a need to hide himself from the human world at all. The picture barely touches on this, making it appear as a non-issue whilst failing to capitalize on a winning chance to strengthen the relationship between Sophie and Snozzcumber-eating BFG.

Outside of this, the movie manages to convey a very appropriate dream-like atmosphere with warmth and humor that is likely to keep its younger audience interested enough. A highlight of the film involves Her ‘Majester’ the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and green flatulence in one of the best on-screen fart jokes I’ve seen in a while — both the kids and adults in the audience were beside themselves.

'Standing on the shoulders of giants' - taken literally
‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ – taken literally

If Spielberg’s The BFG only suggests one thing, it’s that there is still a place for well-crafted character-based, family entertainers. It’s been rather disappointing, yet inevitable, that The BFG has been largely ignored in the US, being completely swept off by the behemoth box office hit that is the CG animated Finding Dory (2016). Thankfully, the movie has been doing reasonably well here in Australia and will likely find its legs on the home release platform — fingers crossed.

For those looking for something a little different right now, in amongst the school holiday options, you know where to look.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

The BFG is released through Disney Australia